Audit Scotland calls for more ICT expertise in central government

By Graeme Burton
10 Sep 2012 View Comments
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Audit Scotland, the Scottish government's public spending watchdog, has called for a single pool of IT expertise to help deliver IT programmes more efficiently and to cut costs.

In a report, entitled Managing ICT Contracts: An audit of three public sector programmes, Audit Scotland highlights a trio of wasteful IT failures.

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These include Registers of Scotland, a programme originally budgeted at £66m, which ballooned to £112m before the contract was terminated; Disclosure Scotland, whereby a new ICT system intended to protect vulnerable groups of people will be delivered 18 months late; and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, in which £2.3m was spent before the project was terminated due to increased costs and a reduced capital budget.

The examination of these three projects indicated a number of "significant weaknesses", according to the report. While each of the bodies established a business case for their programme, these were of variable quality. The appraisal of options was mixed and the benefits planned from the programmes were not always clearly defined.

Governance structures were agreed but there were instances where the roles and responsibilities of respective partners were not clear. In addition, procedures to raise significant issues with high-level boards were not always followed.

In the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Registers of Scotland projects, there were failings in financial control and progress reporting, with programme managers providing insufficient detail to boards to support decision-making, the report continued.

The findings of independent assurance reports were not always acted on. In Registers of Scotland, the accountable officer was not informed that a key step in the Gateway Review process had been cancelled.

The report also highlighted a lack of specialist ICT knowledge on the part of the Scottish government.

"A key factor in the failure to deliver the programmes as intended was the public sector bodies' lack of specialist skills and experience," it read. "This contributed to a lack of understanding about the complexity of the programmes and an over-reliance on the supplier for key decisions affecting the design and implementation of the necessary technology."

It makes a number of recommendations in a bid to make good the shortcomings in ICT guidance and governance. These include putting in place effective governance and risk management arrangements and making sure that they are complied with; ensuring that established project management frameworks are followed; and detailed skills assessments of all the staff involved in a project.

Audit Scotland also urged the Scottish government to examine closely its central staffing of ICT staff.

"The number of ICT staff in central government has reduced in recent years, and the Scottish government should compare the costs and benefits of investing in skills centrally against the risks of failing to deliver ICT programmes through individual central government bodies lacking appropriate skills," it concluded.

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